Moving Day

I was only seventeen the first time I called my dad to rescue me after a car accident. In the dead of night, I’d snuck out of a slumber party and totaled my ancient Buick on the foggy streets of our small town. My father abandoned the warmth of his bed to pick me up, grounded me as soon as he saw that I wasn’t hurt, and, from that day on, teased me mercilessly about my driving.

Six years later, I’m still a terrible driver. And I’ve been falling apart long enough that I shouldn’t take any risks. But in my dark and unsteady ruminations, I’ve made a decision: I’m leaving Berkeley. My best friend is dying, and I have to get away from the memories that lurk around every corner, waiting to shatter me.

For months, we spent every waking hour together, and when we weren’t hanging out, we were on the phone all night long. Was he my soulmate? Platonic boyfriend? “I’ve identified this as a weird friendship!” my best friend Steph said triumphantly when I told her about the endless hours Jeff and I spent together. (When you’re twenty-three, you can have more than one best friend.)

His memory is in every bar and restaurant I pass, in every movie I watch and every song I hear—it’s even in the Safeway that he took me to once at two in the morning, after a night of drinking, to pick up groceries for the waffles I’d promised to cook for my girlfriends the next day.

Regardless of how you label our friendship, he’s gone back to New York, and I can’t be here without him. I’m moving out of my apartment, and I’m doing it alone.

The guy at the U-Haul counter barely looks at me when I pick up the rental. If he bothered to make eye contact, would he notice that I’m unhinged? Might he spot my little green Honda Civic parked outside and realize that I’m unqualified to drive his massive truck?

I should have taken my dad up on his offer to drive it for me. After the U-Haul guy slides the keys over the counter and retreats to the back room of the rental office, there’s no going back. I scramble into the truck, move the driver’s seat as far forward as possible, and adjust the mirrors. I think of Jeff at home in Brooklyn, waiting out the rest of his days with his family. He’d laugh so hard if he saw me getting ready to drive this thing. Except the cancer is in his lungs, and his laughter would turn into a coughing fit, and he’d spit up blood and maybe even throw up.

If Jeff was here, I’d let him drive the van.

Instead, I’m inching along on the narrow streets of West Berkeley, clenching the steering wheel, longing to be back in my Honda, when a loud sound invades the fog that I’ve been living in for months. It sounds vaguely like metal crashing against metal, but I’m too listless to care.

I keep driving. Did an accident happen behind me? I turn to the passenger-side mirror and slam on the brakes in horror.

The mirror is gone.

My God. What have I done?

I hear frenzied honking behind me and pull over in a panic. Am I going to be arrested? Is hit-and-run a crime if you don’t hit a person?

Sobbing, I drag myself out of the truck to face my comeuppance.

Having lived in Berkeley for years, it takes a lot to surprise me. But my encounter with the aging hippie who stands before me, hands on hips, frozen in time, leaves me overcome. The genuine compassion that this stranger shows me, even after my appalling behavior, sends me to pieces. I sideswiped a parked car and fled! Does my hysteria justify my actions? Sitting next to me on the grimy curb, my kind-hearted victim seems to think so. The tongue-lashing that I’m expecting never materializes. Instead: murmured words of comfort; a gentle hand on my heaving shoulders, urging my tears to stop.

I’ve never experienced such humanity.

I write down my phone number and insurance information with shaky hands. My hippie is reluctant to leave me alone, but I promise to call for help. And not to get back behind the wheel of the van.

Keeping my promise is the only way I can honor the extraordinary benevolence I just experienced. I pull my phone out of my pocket. My dad answers on the first ring, panic in his voice.

I can barely talk through my tears. “Daddy?” I whisper.

He doesn’t ask any questions. “I’m on my way.”